Guestblog by Deborah Vogts on Researching Your Contemporary Novel
Every novelist must “jump” into their characters’ skins, and that often means we must learn things we don’t already know. How do we do this? The Internet is an invaluable tool, as is your local library or bookstore. Sometimes, though, your questions can’t be answered that way and you have to go to your “source.” Often that means interviewing someone by email, by phone, or in person. For an introvert writer who spends the majority of her time in front of a computer, this can be terrifying.
So what sort of research might a contemporary author need to do? Below are a few things I did for the books in the Seasons of the Tallgrass series, published by Zondervan.
In my first book, Snow Melts in Spring, the opening scene is one where a horse is terribly injured. Right off, I had to know technical terminology, and not only that, but I had to create a scene that was accurate and believable, not just something that looked good on paper. To get it right, I contacted a handful of veterinarians, asked them a bunch of detailed questions all the way down to possible accident scenarios, which would create the type of injuries needed for the story. I even shadowed one small animal vet for a day in order to get a feel for what a “day in the life” might look like for my character who was also a vet.
I also needed to know something about football. Again, not my specialty. For this research, I went to the children’s section of the library and checked out an armload of books. Here’s a good tip to know: Children’s books are easy to read and they are chock full of valuable information. I also watched a lot of football games on television and asked my football loving friends and family hundreds of questions–all so I could write two or three scenes with authenticity.
For my second book, Seeds of Summer, which released late May, I needed to learn about the Miss Rodeo America competition because my main character, Natalie Adams is a former Miss Rodeo Kansas and first runner up Miss Rodeo America. My research for this story included visiting with those at the Miss Rodeo America headquarters, as well as interviewing and questioning the current MRA at that time, Miss Amy Wilson, Miss Rodeo America 2008.
The highlight of this research culminated when I met and visited Amy at her home in Colby, KS. Amy was a joy to work with and is such a lovely person. My visit to her home was an unexpected blessing, as she shared some special moments from her time as Miss Rodeo Kansas and then as Miss Rodeo America.
I learned that Miss Rodeo America has a host of sponsors who shower their queen with lovely gifts, some of which include: a wardrobe of Wrangler Jeans, Justin Boots, Bailey Hats , fully tooled Court’s Saddle with custom Miss Rodeo America conchos and an official Miss Rodeo America trophy buckle from Montana Silversmiths. Accompanying the perpetual Miss Rodeo America tiara made by Landstrom’s Original Black Hills Gold Creations, Amy was given a wardrobe of matching jewelry. These items, along with other prizes were presented to her throughout her reign. To see some pictures of these items, please visit my blog HERE:
For the book I’m currently writing, I have to learn about running a cafe. So guess what? I’ve been visiting small town cafes and asking the owners lots of questions. Research such as this never ends, but taking the time to do this for your stories might mean the difference between someone loving your book or tossing it against the wall because it wasn’t accurate. Sure, you’ll never please everyone, but by doing the necessary groundwork, you’ll at least know you did everything within your means to bring accuracy to the story. Again, it’s important. Your readers will thank you for it.
Reflective Question: When you’re reading a book, do you notice the amount of research the author has done? And if you are a writer, do you have any tips you’d like to share for getting research facts?
Thanks for having me on your blog, Rose. I hope you will have a great November!
Thanks for a great post, Deb! I love research online, but have found as you did that the personal touch is always best by talking online, by phone, or visiting with people who actually live there.
Bio: Deborah Vogts and her husband have three daughters and make their home in Southeast Kansas where they enjoy their Golden Retrievers and their American Quarter Horses. As a student at Emporia State University studying English and journalism, Deborah developed a love for the Flint Hills that has never faded. In writing the Seasons of The Tallgrass series, she hopes to share her passion for one of the last tallgrass prairie regions in the world, showing that God’s great beauty rests on the prairie and in the hearts of those who live there. Visit Deborah at her web site: http://deborahvogts.com/ or her Country at Heart blog: http://deborahvogts.blogspot.com/ to learn more about her research for the Seasons of the Tallgrass series.